We take a look back at Into the Valley — a model electronic music festival — and what it was like to dance next to the local authorities; in the context of how club culture is perceived today in Scandinavia and elsewhere.
This summer I arrived in the charming Swedish town of Rättvik by the magnificent lake Siljan – a Friday evening in the end of July. As a peculiar introduction to our main purpose of raving at Into the Valley, the town was hosting a classic car weekend. My friend and I even got a car escort to the festival site; basically from one world of fascinating sub-culture to another.
The festival, taking place for the second time this year, was situated inside a former limestone quarry – now known as the cultural arena Dalhalla – with a main stage and three smaller tent stages set up for the occasion. It was a surprisingly large area, but where it was situated inside the quarry gave it a cosy, intimate feeling.
One of the first things I happily noticed about the festival — after catching my breath from the mind-blowing scenery — was when engaging with the crowds. The festival guests were cool, beautiful, young people: experienced in clubbing, social and smart. People around me on the dancefloor were always very cautious and friendly, making sure they wouldn’t block your sight or crash into you. I would soon feel comfortable and at home on the dancefloor, able to fully enjoy the music and dancing.
The festival also had a big proportion of lower level police officers – Ordningsvakter – whose uniforms bore similarities reminiscent of the German “Ordnungsamt”, that you find roaming the streets in Berlin looking for wrongly-parked cars. In Dalhalla, however, your friendly neighboordhood Ordningsvakter would mostly roam the dancefloor for kids smoking cigarettes “indoors”. The feeling I had dancing next to a bunch of guards the age of your grandmother, reminded me of being constantly watched by the retirees that would serve as invigilators throughout my Norwegian school exams as a teenager.
The Friday lineup was mainly house music, a perfect warm-up to what techno heads would see as the highlight of the festival: a Saturday filled with premium techno acts like Jeff Mills, Ben Klock, Dettmann, Rødhåd and Abdulla Rashim. The Hanging Garden stage hosted many local names like Johanna Schneider, Maya Lourenco, Per Hammar and was closed by Rashim himself.
In general, the booking of the festival was impressive. The DJs clearly enjoyed playing there, maintaining a good energy and connection with the lively crowds. The Pyramid stage and the Hanging Garden had an intimate, indoor club feel, more preferable to me than the gigantic main stage likely to host your favourite EDM star on any other day. When Abdulla Rashim played the Hanging Garden tent, it was so packed and sweaty you got the sense you were inside a proper, dirty, techno basement club. A much sought-after feeling in an outdoors rave environment.
One artist I was especially excited to see was Abelle, who with a swap in the program was playing second on the main stage, early Saturday. It was quite the experience to hang out at the bottom of the stairs on the left end of the amphitheatre, where you could catch glimpses of the beautiful green water in the quarry, then look back to the DJ playing – looking ever so tiny and alone on the giant stage. Abelle, however, did not seem put off by the emptiness effect early sets often (and undeservedly) get; she played an excellent composition starting with a few noise/experimental scores, some old-school EBM and industrial, and then some warmer, sensible techno beats. To cap it all off, she hit us with a string of kicking acid tracks.
By this point, more people had emerged and taken up the seating area and on the dancefloor, so she got the applause she deserved. Her set was probably the most varied and captivating one I heard during the festival. It was a pity that most of the crowds were not there to enjoy it. But Mattias Hedlund (ITV founder) was right in saying we can expect a great talent to emerge from Moscow.
Seeing first Panorama bar resident Tama Sumo then an amazing talent like Abelle in front of an almost empty dancefloor, made me reflect on the current status of the scene. The cosmopolitan hipster crowds that pay to see the DJ stars they know after going to Panorama bar, Sonar and Ibiza. Underground club culture and how it has become big lately, in many ways not being so underground any more. As one artist I talked with dryly pointed out: “Ricardo Villalobos [who headlined Friday] is like the Bruce Springsteen of electronic dance music”.
Abelle also made me think of the Outline festival in Russia (which she is involved with), and how it was shut down by Moscow authorities just a few days before it was supposed to happen. Another major positive remark to Into The Valley for offering the Outline guests free tickets to ITV instead.
As a Scandinavian hearing about the situation with Outline festival in Russia, and generally in an international setting (about 70% of the guests at Into the Valley were from outside of Sweden), you often get reminded how lucky you are coming from a country that supports culture politically and financially. Scandinavians are modern, progressive and equal, known to support artists with travel and scholarships.
Into the Valley is also rightly hailed for its gender-balanced artist lineup, being one of few very progressive dance music festivals in this regard. But perhaps not a surprise knowing Sweden is a very progressive country in terms of equality measures. Thus, Into the Valley is a role model for other festivals in the scene, just like Sweden is a role model in terms of equality otherwise.
But are we really that progressive in Scandinavia? Like in other countries, paradoxes exist. In the case of Sweden and Into the Valley, these came to the surface in the aftermath of the festival. The feeling of dancing next to guards is like being at the local youth club with volunteer parents watching over you. So it is somewhat funny and cute, and easy to excuse with “the festival needs security measures, and have to follow the rules, so we just have to live with it”.
It was only after the festival was over and I was reading comments online about the festival, that I understood the authority and control police had at the festival. According to Swedish news the police were raiding and searching people for drugs, arresting 100 people on the site for drug possession (The festival had about 6000 guests in total). As the article in the link points out, larger Swedish open-air pop/rock festivals have had problems with mass attacks of sexual harassment in the crowds, further causing a collective rage in Scandinavia about useless government measures to deal with the problem.
While Into the Valley was happening, two cases of rape were reported at a Swedish open-air in Luleå, and there were several cases of disturbance and offences at the Classic Car event. While at Into The Valley there were no such crimes and you would find a harmless, friendly, loving crowd — even looking closely after and taking care of each other on the dancefloor. Yet these people got chased down by the police even before the festival started — during a razzia on the designated festival train taking festival guests from Stockholm to Rättvik, as reported in Swedish news. And at the festival you were always under the supervision of the Swedish Ordningsvakter.
We have similar problems with authorities controlling nightlife in my hometown, Oslo. It is a pity to see that dance music and clubbers are getting chased and suspected everywhere, even in progressive, smart Scandinavia. This week came the news that Fabric London will definitely close, losing their club licence over two recent drug overdose deaths.
It’s sad news that a music culture gets hounded when separate, more complex contextual issues like drug addiction and sexual violence are the actual problem. These should be the main focus of police and authorities, rather than hunting down singular cases of recreational drug use at festivals and clubs. We all need and want safe clubbing environments, but is this level of police control really the solution?
Even in one of the most progressive countries in the world, decision-makers can’t understand this: that we have the same target when wanting to give people safe spaces to enjoy music and togetherness. And instead of over-controlling, I hope that next year Swedish authorities would rather lift up and take pride in Into The Valley — a role model festival for progressive music and culture – as Sweden otherwise is a role model in culture and society.
All pictures: Steven Kohlstock